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Using Training “Gimmicks”

16 August 2011 No Comment

Using Training “Gimmicks”
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

Why do the people who really need finesse, precision, and functionality to make a living with their horses use the gimmicks that most natural horseman scoff at? I’m talking about reiners, cutters, working cowhorses, World’s Greatest Horsemen, etc. who regularly compete and win, using draw reins, running martingales, cavesons, etc. This may be one of those philosophically unanswerable questions, but I find it interesting that those two sides can’t get closer together o what works. Perhaps it’s just a matter of what works fastest to get thehorse into the mold that is required, to get the results that are needed to win.
Howard Cormier
Hi Howard, I’m of the belief that there are people in this world who have a “win at all costs” attitude and they can talk until they are blue-in-the-face about how much they love their horses and how this is the “right” way to do things, and how the horse just won’t learn any other way and blah, blah, blah, but I just don’t buy it. Many people are just using the horse as their vehicle to success. They get so caught up in needing to win for various reasons, that they lose their conscience along the way. Many professionals take short-cuts because they are getting pressure from their clients, who are holding the purse strings, to get out there and win. If the trainer doesn’t, then their client may just move their horse/s down the road to “so-and-so’s barn” because they are out there winning regularly. Who cares if the horses are being tormented in the process, the end item is to win. Non-professionals who get caught up in needing to win are sometimes driven by looking good and being the best, no matter what it takes. Their image is at stake (same with the professionals) so by gosh, they’ll just do whatever it takes to get from Point A to Point B in the shortest time possible and to be the winner when the day is done. What you also may be seeing sometimes is that the so-called “accomplished” riders and trainers really are not very accomplished at all. They may not have ever received good foundation training themselves and learned to train and ride with the use of devices, so they in fact don’t know any different.

On the flip side of the coin is what makes something a gimmick or a device? If we want to get real technical, a bit in itself can be considered a device. A halter and lead rope can also be considered a device because it allows us to exert control over the horse. As I see it, any piece of equipment is only as harsh or as brutal as whose hands it is in. My thinking when training is that the most simple, uncomplicated approach is the best, so I personally don’t use draw reins, chambons, gogues, martingales, etc for undersaddle training because they don’t at all simulate what a rider does with their weight, legs or hands when they ride without those pieces of equipment. However, I have the skills to follow through with training in a way that achieves results without devices and its the same thing that I teach to my students. I’m never in a hurry when I train and all of my clients know that and they appreciate that they will receive a well-rounded education, as will their horses. I’ve been combining many different approaches in training for 25+ years because I don’t believe that “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to training/teaching horses or humans. All horses, just as with humans, are individuals and we need to find the combinations in training that will work for that particular individual. Whether that individual is an Arabian, a Quarter Horse, a Thoroughbred, a Belgian draft horse, a mare, a stallion or a gelding, there will be an approach that will work better then another for that particular individual. I’ve made it a point in my career to become educated in various techniques, styles of riding and methodologies so that I have many more mental and physical training “tools” to choose from. If one approach isn’t cutting it with a horse, I’m flexible and educated enough to be able to try something different.

Another factor to consider is just as with humans in various sports, different exercises and approaches are utilized to achieve different results with horses too. Depending on the discipline, you are looking at different mental and physical approaches in training to develop the hors mind and body in a certain way. For example, you are not going to be able to ride a horse in a “natural” western pleasure type way (and I’m talking about “natural” and not as you see western pleasure at some of the breed shows) and go out and succeed in first level dressage. Whole different muscle groups are developed to get a horse physically able to comfortably achieve different things and their mind must be developed in different ways as well.

So while I do see the “win at all costs” attitude out there quite often, I also see conflict between different factions that support various types of training. For instance, maybe a natural horsemanship educated person sees poorly ridden dressage. They may form an opinion that “dressage is bad because the riders are pulling on the horses mouth and kicking them in the sides with every step”. This is unfortunate when it happens because dressage, trained and ridden correctly, is total harmony and relaxation between horse and rider. I feel that many times negative opinions are formed because someone puts everyone that rides a discipline “in the same box” because they saw that discipline ridden or trained poorly. It seems a lot more fair and practical to keep an open mind to other approaches, avoid narrow-mindedness or tunnel-vision and we should also endeavor to educate ourselves in various disciplines and approaches so that “we know of what we speak” if we “speak-up” regarding a perceived abuse or mishandling. I’m sure that some of what I’ve written might get some peoples dander up, but since “I’ve been there, done that” in most disciplines, I’m very secure in my position and in knowing that there are very compassionate, considerate and humane ways to train horses without resorting to short-cuts and “quick fixes”.

Good Luck!

Laura Phelps-Bell

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